In September 1953, after many rejections from other publishers, Golding sent a manuscript to Faber & Faber and was initially rejected by their reader. His book however was championed by Charles Monteith, a new editor at the firm. Monteith asked for some changes to the text and the novel was published in September 1954 as Lord of the Flies.
After moving in 1958 from Salisbury to nearby Bowerchalke, he met his fellow villager and walking companion James Lovelock. The two discussed Lovelock's hypothesis that the living matter of the planet Earth functions like a single organism, and Golding suggested naming this hypothesis after Gaia, the goddess of the earth in Greek mythology. His publishing success made it possible for Golding to resign his teaching post at Bishop Wordsworth's School in 1961, and he spent that academic year in the United States as writer-in-residence at Hollins College, near Roanoke, Virginia.
Golding won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize in 1979, and the Booker Prize in 1980. In 1983 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, and was according to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography "an unexpected and even contentious choice". In 1988 Golding was appointed as a Knight Bachelor. In September 1993, only a few months after his sudden death, the First International William Golding Conference was held in France, where Golding's presence had been promised and eagerly anticipated.
His first novel, Lord of the Flies (1954; film, 1963 and 1990; play, adapted by Nigel Williams, 1995), describes a group of boys stranded on a tropical island reverting to savagery. The Inheritors (1955) shows "new people" (generally identified with Homo sapiens sapiens), triumphing over a gentler race (generally identified with Neanderthals) by deceit and violence. His 1956 novel Pincher Martin records the delusions experienced by a drowning sailor in his last moments. Free Fall (1959) explores the issue of free choice as a prisoner held in solitary confinement in a German POW camp during World War Two looks back over his life. The Spire (1964) follows the building (and near collapse) of a huge spire onto a medieval cathedral (generally assumed to be Salisbury Cathedral); the spire symbolizing both spiritual aspiration and worldly vanity. In his 1967 novel The Pyramid three separate stories in a shared setting (a small English town in the 1920s) are linked by a narrator, and The Scorpion God (1971) consists of three novellas, the first set in a prehistoric African hunter-gatherer band ('Clonk, Clonk'), the second in an ancient Egyptian court ('The Scorpion God') and the third in the court of a Roman emperor ('Envoy Extraordinary'). The last of these reworks his 1958 play The Brass Butterfly. His later novels include Darkness Visible (1979), which is about a terrorist group, a paedophile teacher, and a mysterious angel-like figure who survives a fire in The Blitz, The Paper Men (1984) which is about the conflict between a writer and his biographer, and a sea trilogy To the Ends of the Earth, which includes the Rites of Passage (1980), Close Quarters (1987), and Fire Down Below (1989), the first book of which (originally intended as a stand-alone novel) won the Booker Prize.